The Challenges of Legal Translation – Part 2

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Picking up on the theme of our previous blog on the subject, let’s take a look at some more of the factors that make legal translation one of the most challenging specialist areas within the industry, as well as how expert legal translators overcome these hurdles.


Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines

One of the most challenging things about a legal translation project can actually be the timeframe in which it is expected to be completed.  The fact is, most legal translations are completed for lawyers, generally in the midst of working on a case, and as a result, many other aspects of that case may have to be put on hold until the translation has been completed.


This means that deadline pressure comes down hard on the person or company completing the translation, and for inexperienced translators this can lead to problems.  If your client is putting you under more or less constant pressure to complete the work, perhaps trying to move the goalposts part way through a project, then you might feel tempted to rush it in order to get the job over the finish line.


This is of course, a false economy.  In legal translation there is absolutely zero room for error, and rushing a translation is one of the worst mistakes a linguist can make.


So how do professional legal translators solve this quandary?


Well, experience is a very important weapon in a legal translator’s arsenal.  The industry standard speed for translation is usually cited as being 2000 words per day.  However, an experienced translator who is familiar with the subject matter can often produce 3000 words per day or indeed even more.  The key is to accurately assess how long a project will take you and to make this clear from the outset.  After that it is simply a matter of sticking to your guns.


Attention to detail

Successful lawyers have highly developed critical review skills and excellent attention to detail.  It is therefore true to say that legal translations are often subject to a much, much higher level of scrutiny than translations in other disciplines, whether this be by the client themselves, or by the lawyers working on the other side of the case who are looking to pick holes in the client’s argument.


In a legal context even the smallest typo or the most benign bit of ambiguity can lead to catastrophic results.  For example, what if you are translating a document from a language in which one word can have two possible translations, both equally correct in isolation, but which can be interpreted in very different ways according to the jurisprudence of the target language?  Only a very in-depth knowledge of the context of the particular case would be able to guarantee that the translator chose the right word in the right place.


Legal translators have to be very careful in the words they choose, and being adequately briefed and having the option to check various points of language with the lawyers working on the case will be a big help.


However, in pursuing their quest for accuracy, translators can fall into the trap of producing a translated document which is overly literal.  It is not uncommon for a legal client to ask for a “verbatim” translation, but they don’t really mean that they want a document in which each word is translated literally without the context of the rest of the document, as that would result in gibberish.  Translation is all about interpreting a text and making word choices based on experience, sound judgement and good research.


The above 2 factors are almost always going to be the main 2 considerations weighing on a legal translator’s mind.  They are between the hammer and the anvil, in that the translation needs to be produced quickly, but without sacrificing 100% accuracy.


Choose your legal translators carefully, as only the best can get this balance right.

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